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Nebraska brothers sucked out of their home by a tornado survive to tell the tale

<i>Maya Blackstone/CNN via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Royce Slatten
Maya Blackstone/CNN via CNN Newsource
Royce Slatten

By Maya Blackstone and Mary Gilbert, CNN

(CNN) — It was Friday afternoon in a western suburb of Omaha, Nebraska, and Roger Slatten had just left for work when he got a phone call that would change his life.

A tornado was spotted near his home in an Elkhorn neighborhood, and he needed to get to safety, his friend urged on the other line.

Roger turned his vehicle around and raced toward the home he shared with wife Lindy and brother, Royce. Lindy was at work, but Roger called ahead to his brother and told him to grab the two dogs and get to the basement.

Roger pulled into the driveway and ran inside, but neither brother made it to the basement. Just one minute later, a tornado with at least 136 mph winds ripped the brothers out of their home and reduced it to rubble.

“I’ve never seen wind do what it was doing,” Roger told CNN. “I never expected something like this to happen.”

The tornado that destroyed the Slatten home was just one of dozens that roared across the Plains from Thursday to Sunday. The Slattens and their dogs are lucky to be alive after their ordeal, but at least five people – four in Oklahoma and one in Iowa – weren’t so fortunate.

Basements, or the lowest, most-interior rooms of a building, are the safest place to be during a tornado. But when this one hit the Slatten home, the brothers were running to an upper floor to search for their Yorkiepoo, Nico. They couldn’t find him, and it was too late to get to the basement – the tornado had arrived and the house started to crumble around them.

“We could feel the floor separate from the foundation. As soon as the wind got under it, it just vaporized the upper end of the house,” Roger said.

The brothers locked eyes for a moment before they were thrown from the house.

“We were both trying to head down the stairs and we kind of looked at each other and I was certain that it was the last time I was ever going to see my brother because the house took off,” Roger continued.

Roger remained conscious as he was thrown into the air, doing “head over heels cartwheels” while being pummeled with debris before he hit the ground, only to be pinned down by more rubble.

“I face planted on the ground and got buried in rubble – which luckily protected me from getting sliced up by any glass – but my legs and one arm were pinned,” Roger said.

Royce Slatten only recalls snippets of his descent through the air.

“I remember being ripped out towards the back after the house was lifted. I remember hitting the ground and coming to afterwards and just feeling like the whole house is ripping into my back,” Royce said.

“It was the most intense feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Royce added.

Royce landed in the backyard. Unlike Roger, Royce wasn’t pinned by any debris and and made it to a neighbor’s house, running on pure adrenaline.

“Once I got up, I started screaming Roger’s name because I didn’t see anybody. I thought he was dead for sure,” Royce said.

Meanwhile, Roger was able to get one hand free and call 911. First responders arrived shortly after and freed Roger, but Royce was nowhere to be found until another neighbor pointed Roger in the right direction.

The brothers’ reunion was a massive relief.

Royce is a member of the National Guard and was deployed overseas last year, but Roger said he “was more relieved to see him after being separated for 20 minutes than the almost year he was gone.”

Shortly after the brothers’ reunion, rescuers pulled tiny Nico from the rubble. Hours later, their other dog Rogan was rescued by the Human Society just down the road from where their house once stood. Both dogs are doing OK.

Royce was cut up quite badly; his injuries required 22 stitches and he said it’s painful to walk, a couple days after the storm. He didn’t have shoes on when the tornado hit and had to walk barefoot through debris.

Roger didn’t fare much better. He suffered multiple bone bruises from heavy debris landing on him, was punctured in the back by a nail and received multiple cuts on his face.

The house was totally destroyed, reduced to the basement foundation. Most of their belongings are gone. The brothers said the basement they would have sheltered in collapsed and was crushed by a tree from a neighboring yard.

The destruction to their home is something the entire block is dealing with, but the destroyed community is rallying around the recovering brothers and each other.

“A lot of people have asked if it’s the scariest thing or the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but honestly, the good has somehow outweighed the bad,” Roger said. “It just feels so unbelievable, it feels written. … You know, I’m alive and we’re all healthy, it could have been so much worse and we’re here, so I’m just so grateful for the support and so grateful for the people around us.”

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